Birth of Little Rock’s 21st Mayor – Charles P. Bertrand

On November 23, 1808, future Mayor Charles P. Bertrand was born in New York.  He was the son of Pierre and Eliza Wilson Bertrand; his father died in 1809 in an uprising in Haiti and his mother eventually remarried.  With her new husband, Dr. Matthew Cunningham, she and the family moved to Little Rock in 1820.

After apprenticing with family friend William Woodruff at the Arkansas Gazette, Bertrand opened the Arkansas Advocate newspaper.  He later studied law under Robert Crittenden and entered the legal profession.

In 1835-1836, he served as State Treasurer for the Arkansas Territory, and in 1836 as secretary for the first constitutional convention. He was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1840-1841 and 1844-1849.

Bertrand followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and became Mayor of Little Rock.  (Dr. Cunningham had been the first Little Rock Mayor in 1831.)  He was in office from January 1855 through January 1857, serving two one-year terms.  He later served on the City Council and filled in as acting mayor. (Another influence on his upbringing was studying under future Mayor Jesse Brown who taught at the first school in Little Rock.)

Bertrand, as acting mayor, was involved in the negotiations of the surrender of Little Rock to federal troops in 1863.  He also later corresponded with President Lincoln on behalf of Little Rock citizens.

Though a staunch Confederate, his good will toward the Union soldiers and federal officials is credited with helping to save Little Rock from the destruction which befell many other Southern cities.

Bertrand is also credited with delaying the start of the Civil War.  Prior to the attack on Fort Sumner, members of the Arkansas Militia were planning to attack the Federal Arsenal at Little Rock during the absence of Governor Rector.  This would have been viewed as an act of war.  Bertrand was able to dissuade them from the attack.  Had he been unsuccessful, the Civil War would have likely started in Arkansas instead of South Carolina.

He had put his considerable fortune into Confederate money during the war. At the Civil War’s conclusion, the family was financially ruined. Though they had vast land holdings, those would be sold off in parcels to pay for taxes.

Bertrand died August 27, 1865, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.  He, like his mother, step-father, and several other relatives, is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: C. P. Bertrand

On November 23, 1808, future Mayor Charles P. Bertrand was born in New York.  He was the son of Pierre and Eliza Wilson Bertrand; his father died in 1809 in an uprising in Haiti and his mother eventually remarried.  With her new husband, Dr. Matthew Cunningham, she and the family moved to Little Rock in 1820.

After apprenticing with family friend William Woodruff at the Arkansas Gazette, Bertrand opened the Arkansas Advocate newspaper.  He later studied law under Robert Crittenden and entered the legal profession.

In 1835-1836, he served as State Treasurer for the Arkansas Territory, and in 1836 as secretary for the first constitutional convention. He was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1840-1841 and 1844-1849.

Bertrand followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and became Mayor of Little Rock.  (Dr. Cunningham had been the first Little Rock Mayor in 1831.)  He was in office from January 1855 through January 1857, serving two one-year terms.  He later served on the City Council and filled in as acting mayor. (Another influence on his upbringing was studying under future Mayor Jesse Brown who taught at the first school in Little Rock.)

Bertrand, as acting mayor, was involved in the negotiations of the surrender of Little Rock to federal troops in 1863.  He also later corresponded with President Lincoln on behalf of Little Rock citizens

.

Though a staunch Confederate, his good will toward the Union soldiers and federal officials is credited with helping to save Little Rock from the destruction which befell many other Southern cities.  He is also credited with delaying the start of the Civil War.

Prior to the attack on Fort Sumner, members of the Arkansas Militia were planning to attack the Federal Arsenal at Little Rock during the absence of Governor Rector.  This would have been viewed as an act of war.  Bertrand was able to dissuade them from the attack.  Had he been unsuccessful, the Civil War would have likely started in Arkansas instead of South Carolina.

He had put his considerable fortune into Confederate money during the war. At the Civil War’s conclusion, the family was financially ruined. Though they had vast land holdings, those would be sold off in parcels to pay for taxes.

Bertrand died August 27, 1865, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.  He, like his mother, step-father, and several other relatives, is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: 190 Years of 1st Presbyterian Church

This weekend, Little Rock’s First Presbyterian Church will celebrate 190 years.

The Sunday service will feature a Scottish Bagpiper, special music, and historical readings to recognize the church’s history. The message will be delivered by Reverend Stewart Smith, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Arkansas.

The church was organized in July 1828. It is the oldest continuously serving Presbyterian church west of the Mississippi River.  Not only that, it appears to be the oldest, continuously serving church of any denomination in Little Rock.  It predated the establishment of Catholic (1830), Methodist (1833) and Episcopal (1839) churches in the city.

Little Rock’s first Presbyterian congregation was organized in July 1828. Reverend James Wilson Moore had been commissioned by the Northumberland Presbytery of Pennsylvania as a Presbyterian Missionary to the Territory of Arkansas.

Prior to the formal establishment  of the church, Rev. Moore preached his first sermon in Little Rock on  January 28, 1828. It took place in Jesse Brown’s schoolhouse (Little Rock’s first school) which was at the foot of Rock Street.

When the church was established, it had seven members: two men and five women.  From 1828 until 1833, it met in a variety of temporary locations.

The congregation’s first permanent structure was at the southeast corner of Second and Main (where the Main Street Parking Deck is sited). In 1853, it moved to land on Markham between Cumberland and Rock.  Following an 1866 fire which destroyed the church and several other buildings, the church made plans to move.  In 1869, the congregation moved to three lots at the northwest corner of Capitol Avenue and Scott Streets. This brick sanctuary with a steeple was the first church built in Little Rock after the Civil War.

By 1909, the church was outgrowing the building. There was discussion as to whether the building should be expanded or a new building built elsewhere. Due to the increase in the property value in the existing site, the decision was made to move.  In 1913, property at the southwest corner of 8th and Scott Streets was purchased.  Construction began first on an education building (with a temporary auditorium). That building opened in 1914.

In May 1920, ground was broken for a new sanctuary building; the cornerstone was laid on November 7, 1920.  The first worship service in the sanctuary took place on October 2, 1921.

A disastrous four-alarm fire gutted the sanctuary in May 1958, causing thousands of dollars damage of the chancel and the organ. The sanctuary was restored for worship services within nine months.

A Sesquicentennial Anniversary celebration marking the 150 years of First Presbyterian Church history was held in the summer of 1978. Governor David Pryor (Governor of Arkansas and shortly U. S. Senator-elect) was principal speaker at worship services.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Little Rock Look Back: Major Nicholas Peay

On April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children.  (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but all other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825.  At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.

After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock.  From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.

He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown.  In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.

Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off.  Retired HAM director Bill Worthen and his daughter are the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog.

Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.

Little Rock Look Back: First meeting of Little Rock Board of Trustees

On Monday, January 2, 1826, Little Rock voters elected their first Board of Trustees. This five member governing body was authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly in October 1825.  The five men getting the most votes were Bernard Smith, Isaac Watkins, James C. Collins, Ezra Owens and Sam C. Roane.

The evening of the election, the Board of Trustees held their first meeting.  They chose Mr. Smith (a former US Congressman from New Jersey) as the president.  To serve as the clerk, the men selected Jesse Brown, who was Little Rock’s first school teacher.

In June 1826, Robert Crittenden was appointed to fill out the remainder of Mr. Owens’ term.  The latter had resigned, though media accounts do not indicate why.

Mr. Smith, whose job was as secretary to the governor of Arkansas, would serve on the Board through 1828.  Mr. Watkins served until his murder in December 1827.  Mr. Collins served in 1826 and again in 1828.  Mr. Roane only served in 1826.  Mr. Crittenden served a full term in 1827 and then again in 1830 and 1831.

The Little Rock Board of Trustees was disbanded with the January 1832 election of Little Rock’s first mayor and aldermen.

Little Rock Look Back: Nicholas Peay

On April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children.  (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but all other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825.  At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.

After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock.  From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.

He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown.  In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.

Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off.  This past year, museum director Bill Worthen and his daughter were the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog. The Worthens are descended from Mayor Peay’s son who was also named Gordon Neill Peay.

Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.